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Construction : Cover Story | February 2016 | Source : Infrastructure Today

Professor Girish Kumar, Electrical Engineering department, IIT Bombay

Professor Girish Kumar of the electrical engineering department of IIT Bombay, has researched electromagnetic fields for decades. Here, he explains why telecommunications is fast becoming the second cigarette industry.

The Bio-initiative Report (BIR) has been criticised for its alarmist stance. Comment. The Bio-initiative Report was first prepared by 29 scientists from 10 different countries. They submitted 3,800 scientific papers, 2,000 of which appeared in 2007 and another 1,800 in 2012. Since then, there have been several hundred more papers by more numbers of scientists.

These have been published in all the possible reputed journals which have also been referred by other experts. Do you think that close to 4,000 papers with maybe hundreds of scientists and several hundreds of reviewers are all wrong? Why do you think anyone would criticise a group of academics?
All governments in the world are making huge money through auctioning spectrum. Since we are talking about India, we have had three rounds of major spectrum auctions. Four years back, the government raised Rs.61 thousand crore. Two years ago, they raised about Rs.67 thousand crore and in March 2015, they raised Rs.1.1 lakh crore. Out of that, they received 25 per cent as advance i.e., Rs.28 thousand crore. The balance Rs 82 thousand crore is yet to come from the cell operators. This is why the government is supporting the operators as they need to get that money. This is the situation all over (again).

The operators are big cash cows. Of course, this is only part of the explanation. Nevertheless, India does follow international guidelines set by ICNIRP, also adopted by most countries... Yes, the name sounds good. It is the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. A common man thinks it must an international body of repute. It is actually an NGO started by a person known to have industrial links. He is the Founder Chairman of ICNIRP. The same person was also Chairman of the World Health Organization´s EMF Project. As long as he was there, WHO never admitted a health problem. In 2006, scientists actually filed a petition to remove him from WHO. If you see the WHO reports till 2006, there is absolutely no effect on health. However, coming back to your question, ICNIRP has also mentioned that their guidelines are only for short-term exposure and not long term. They´ve mentioned it is for an ´average over six minutes´. What is good for six minutes, we seem to have adopted it for 24 hours! However, the guideline itself was not correct and the guideline for GSM 900 was 4,500 and for 3G and 4G it was 10 thousand milliwatt per meter sq.

Are we to conclude the guidelines are not an indicator of actual safety levels?
I am claiming those guidelines are not safe and according to the BIR also, they are not safe. This is why I have been asking the Indian government to ask operators to reduce the transmitted power and adopt a better radiation norm. Russia, China, Italy, France, Poland ´ all these countries have adopted absolute maximum cumulative radiation as 100 milliwatt per meter sq whereas in India we have 450 for GSM 900 and 1,000 for 3G and 4G. This is a gap of ten times! Switzerland and Sweden have adopted 42 milliwatts per meter sq. The Austrian Medical Association (AMA) is also very clear about it. They say exposure of more than four hours a day and greater than 1 milliwatt per sq is very far above normal. Therefore, what I am saying is not only based on the BIR, but also the AMA as well as other places where scientists have done experiments.

You also have a critic in KS Parthasarathy, former secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.
I have never met him. I don´t know what the problem is.
I know he is a retired BARC scientist and has been working mainly on nuclear radiation which is ionising radiation. However, if you say non-ionising radiation is not harmful, that is not correct. There is an equation for energy i.e., energy is power multiplied by time. The more the power, the more the radiation, and hence the discomfort. Next is time. If you stand in the sun in the noon for five minutes as compared to 50 minutes, there will be a difference. So, time is also important. If you are exposed to higher power, it will take less time to affect you. If it is lower power, it will take longer to affect you. That´s the basic principle.
For instance, let´s see how the microwave reacts with humans. When microwave radiation impeaches on the human body, it penetrates the skin. It goes inside and heats the blood and the water inside our bodies. They start vibrating at 900 MHz, or 900 million times per second when the radiation impeaches on it. This creates friction, which causes heat and DNA damage. This is known as non-thermal effect. This is what happens in microwave cooking and that is why the heat penetrates the food and heats it from inside out.

However, normal heating is from outside to inside. Heat from the sun is also from outside to inside. If you stand in the sun, it is first the skin which gets heated. In microwave, it penetrates the body and at 1800 MHz, it is almost like two billion times per second. What happens is that the heat which is generated inside the body is trapped by the skin. From the sun, the skin offers protection but from microwave radiation, it keeps the heat intact.

Where does India stand now with respect to the regulations on radiation?
When cellphone technology came to India in 1995, there were no norms at all. In 2008, they adopted these ICNIRP guidelines. Then, in 2010, they were planning to come out with another paper. That is the time I got seriously involved. Since 2010, I probably made about 40 trips to Delhi and have been meeting all the officials of the government. I made various presentations and we saw that the government did not know there are so many associated health hazards. Subsequently, they formed an inter-ministerial committee in 2010 to look into the matter.

What happened then?
They came out with their independent report which took a lot of inputs from the report I had presented to them in December 2010. I had never said to do away with towers. I said that the norm of 4,500 was extremely high and should be immediately reduced to 100 milliwatt per meter sq with immediate effect. In two years, I proposed to reduce it to 10 milliwatt per meter sq. This meant that operators had to reduce the transmitted power and put up more numbers of towers to account for the reduced power output. That would generate a lot of savings as companies wouldn´t need a power amplifier at the output, hence no cooling and no diesel generators. Since the power requirement would reduce, maybe they could put up just a solar panel to do the job. That would be a true green telecommunication industry.

So, where do you think we are headed?
It is exactly the cigarette industry which is repeating itself here. Forty years ago, I knew cigarette smoking was not good. Yet, it is only in the last five years that governments around the world woke up and started saying that smoking kills. Earlier, they would just say cigarette smoking is injurious to health.

- Rouhan Sharma

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